Rob Coppinger / London


Success in trials could lead to demonstrator playing a key role in NASA's space exploration programme


Firing tests of a rocket engine demonstrator that could become an upper stage for a future heavylift launcher, or a reusable vehicle's main engine, are to start in January.


In development for 10 years, the Integrated Powerhead Demonstrator (IPD) engine has a thrust capability of 250,000lb (1,110kN), similar to a Saturn V's third stage, and could be scaled up to be a new vehicle's main engine.


To be tested at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Mississippi, the project is managed by the US Air Force Research Laboratory under its Integrated High Payoff Rocket Propulsion Technology programme, with support from NASA's Alabama based Marshall Space Flight Center.


Unlike existing engines, the IPD's turbopump system pre-vapourises propellants before injection into the combustion chamber. This, claims Boeing's Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power, which supplies the turbopump, improves fuel mixing and provides finer fuel particles for more effective combustion, delivering its specific impulse more efficiently. The engine also uses new materials that do not need protective coatings to avoid damaging oxidation from the engine's high-temperature oxygen environment.


One IPD technology, hydrostatic bearings, is already being deployed on the Boeing/Mitsubishi Heavy Industries MBXX engine, which could be used on expendable launchers. Used in the turbopumps, the bearings move on a fluid film for less wear and better reliability.


Donald McAlister, Boeing IPD programme manager, believes the IPD will play a part in NASA's Project Constellation. "This programme was part of NASA's next-generation launcher technology and is one of the few projects carried on for applications for the new space exploration initiative," he says.


Source: Flight International